I always get away with it when I try stuff like this. Partly it comes down to sort of assuming that I’m going to. I’ve got loads of confidence. And Loki got away with everything. Well, almost everything.
When troubled, quiet Ben begins at the ruthlessly competitive Cottesmore House, school to the richest, most privileged boys, he is befriended by Hobie: the wealthy class bully, product of monstrous indulgence and intense parental ambition.
Hobie is drawn to Ben because he can see the Otherlife: a violent, mythic place where gods and monsters roam. Ben has unnerving visions of Thor and Odin, and of the giant beasts that will destroy them, as well as Loki, god of mischief. Hobie is desperate to be a part of it.
Years later, Ben discovers his beloved tutor Jason is dead. And he can’t help wondering if Hobie – wild, restless, dangerous Hobie, had something to do with it…
I am a bit conflicted about this book. There were good things and bad things about it. Starting with the good: it was difficult to figure out whether it was fantasy or psychological, though I lean more towards the latter. The mind has ways of explaining away things that seem real, and Ben has been hallucinating the existence of an ‘Otherlife’ layered onto reality. He has been a bit obsessed with Norse mythology from childhood, and thinks he can see the Gods around him, speak to him. Now, it has been occurring with more frequency, and his weird painkillers don’t seem to help. He also learns about his favorite childhood tutor’s death and wants to unravel the mystery around it.
Told in alternating perspectives and timelines, Hobie’s POV comes in the form of his diary entries from three years ago. He was a mean person, peroid. It was pretty surprising that these two become friends, but you see them growing out of a common root – parental coddling on Hobie’s part and distance on Ben’s part. They become really close, and when Ben shares his stories of Otherlife with him, Hobie becomes obsessed too. Their friendship is complicated, but also something they both needed at the time. The author did a good job with distinctly voicing the two POVs, and also interspersing the Norse mythology onto the storyline in the vein of a retelling. (Anything more said would be a spoiler) Also, overall, it has definite Bridge of Terabithia vibes. The ending was definitely epic, with parts that hinted at fantasy but more entrenched in reality.
Moving onto the bad, I would say the pace of the book suffered when it’s narrative was bogged down by details, particularly in Ben’s perspective. Meanwhile, while Hobie’s was the one containing more action with regards to plot progression, the voice was terrible to read through. Hobie was categorically hateful to everything except Ben and Otherlife, and his cruelty onto others made for a difficult read. He is the Loki of the story – the trickster whose only objective is to create chaos and while he loves Ben, it is difficult to feel anything positive for him in light of his blatant cruelty. And with such a slow pace in other parts, it was tempting to skim over to get it over with.
Overall, I would say it is a wonderful concept that was carried out well, but could have been written with a little more judiciousness, so that the pacing didn’t suffer.
Received a free galley from Penguin Random House UK Children’s, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.